Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
Schools across the country are taking a fresh look at “zero tolerance” policies that enforce suspensions and expulsions if students are guilty of infractions–sometimes minor ones, others that have resulted in an arrest. Critics of the policies say they most affect minority students who are already at greater risk of performing poorly in school or dropping out altogether. More from The New York Times:
Perhaps nowhere has the shift been more pronounced than in Broward County’s public schools. Two years ago, the school district achieved an ignominious Florida record: More students were arrested on school campuses here than in any other state district, the vast majority for misdemeanors like possessing marijuana or spraying graffiti.
The Florida district, the sixth largest in the nation, was far from an outlier. In the past two decades, schools around the country have seen suspensions, expulsions and arrests for minor nonviolent offenses climb together with the number of police officers stationed at schools. The policy, called zero tolerance, first grew out of the war on drugs in the 1990s and became more aggressive in the wake of school shootings like the one at Columbine High School in Colorado.
But in November, Broward veered in a different direction, joining other large school districts, including Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago and Denver, in backing away from the get-tough approach.
Rather than push children out of school, districts like Broward are now doing the opposite: choosing to keep lawbreaking students in school, away from trouble on the streets, and offering them counseling and other assistance aimed at changing behavior.
These alternative efforts are increasingly supported, sometimes even led, by state juvenile justice directors, judges and police officers.
Image: School lockers, via Shutterstock
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Friday, November 22nd, 2013
Katelyn Roman, a 13-year-old Florida girl whose felony charges were dropped yesterday in the case of a schoolmate’s suicide that was allegedly prompted by cyber-bullying, is telling the media, “I do not feel l did anything wrong.” In September, 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick took her life after her family said she was “absolutely terrorized” by cyberbullies who were taunting her on social media. Roman and another girl–unnamed because she is a juvenile, were charged with third-degree aggravated stalking last month, but the charges have been dropped. More from Today.com:
Katelyn and a 14-year-old girl whom TODAY is not identifying because she is a juvenile were charged last month after Polk County (Fla.) Sheriff Grady Judd saw a derogatory post on Facebook that he claims was written by one of them. The two girls were arrested after Judd said they were allegedly involved in the bullying of Rebecca Sedwick, 12, who committed suicide on Sept. 9, with the 14-year-old allegedly writing on Facebook, “Yes ik [I know] I bullied Rebecca nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don't give a f---].”
Judd also publicly revealed the girls’ names and their mug shots at an Oct. 15 news conference and told TODAY on Oct. 16 that one of the girls did something “despicable” with the post on Facebook.
On Wednesday, the Florida state attorney’s office announced that charges had been dropped and withheld comment on its reasoning because both girls are juveniles. After his public outrage over the alleged bullying by the two girls last month, Judd said at a news conference Wednesday that he was “exceptionally pleased with the outcome of the case.”
“We see the children are going to get the services they need,’’ Judd told reporters, referring to both girls being in counseling. “That’s the best outcome for juveniles. Our goal is that these kids never bully anyone again.”
Image: Web page, via Shutterstock
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Friday, October 11th, 2013
An 11-year-old Florida boy has won the top prize at a major science fair with his invention of a sandbag that could save property and lives in the event of saltwater floods. More from NBC News:
“Living in Florida, I’m keenly aware of hurricanes and saltwater flooding,” the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge grand prize winner Peyton Robertson, who is a sixth grader at the Pine Crest School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., told NBC News.
“Super-storm Sandy really got me concerned about how people can prepare for that damage from flooding. But today, the most common method of flood protection is sandbags. They are really heavy and difficult to transport and leave gaps in between the bags. So, I redesigned the bag,” he explained.
Instead of sand, his bag is filled with a mixture of salt and an expandable polymer. When dry, it is lightweight, easy to move and easy to store. Once the bag is positioned, such as to create a barrier around a house, users hose it down with water. The polymer absorbs the water, swells and fills the volume of the bag.
“I use salt so they are heavier than any approaching seawater … but the twist is when you add salt to the bag it reduces the swelling of the polymer so you need to recalculate how much you put in,” Robertson explained.
In other words, the young scientist, who is already taking pre-calculus and trigonometry, realized an interaction between his super-absorbent polymer and salt that required him to calculate the precise mixture to add to the bag so that the full volume fills when water is added.
The bags also have a novel interlocking mechanism that connects them at their midpoints in order to prevent gaps that floodwaters can penetrate.
Robertson tested the bags in the bathtub and a kiddie pool where they easily outperformed traditional sand-filled sandbags. He next hopes to test them “in a real hurricane situation because that is the only way to figure out what glitches or whatever might be in the solution.”
As winner of the Young Scientist Challenge, he was named “America’s Top Young Scientist” at an award ceremony on Tuesday that also comes with the $25,000 check, which he can spend however he pleases, though has expressed interest in saving it for college.
Image: Sandbags, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, October 9th, 2013
Body mass index (BMI) standards can be misleading for athletic students whose bodies are in excellent condition, but higher in muscle mass. One 11-year-old Naples, Florida girl learned this when her school sent home a letter warning her parents that she was in danger of becoming overweight; Lilly Grasso is a star volleyball player and has a healthy lifestyle. More on the letter, and her parents’ reaction, from Today.com:
The letter claimed that Lilly’s body mass index, or BMI, was 22 and she was at risk for being overweight. The 11-year-old star volleyball player carries 124 pounds on an athletic frame of 5’3” and eats healthy foods.
“It says that and tells you to go to their website and the at risk turns to Lilly is overweight,” Grasso said on TODAY.
She believes her daughter is a healthy weight and the Florida Department of Public Health in Collier County made a mistake by sending what’s known by some as a “fat letter” home with her daughter. She thinks that children might feel bad by being labeled as overweight or fat, even if they are healthy.
But, Deb Millsap, public information officer of the Collier County Health Department, and Joan Colfer, MD, MPH, director of the Florida Department of Public Health, Collier County told TODAY that while the letters are sent home with the students, they are in sealed envelopes addressed to the parents. Students can open the letters, but that means they are reading their parents mail.
The letter included BMI—which uses height and weight to determine if someone is within a healthy range—and information on how students’ vision and hearing are and if they are at risk for scoliosis. The data comes from a regular screening process that occurs when students in are kindergarten, first, third, and sixth grades. Florida is one of 21 states that have laws requiring BMI screenings. Millsap said the health department is currently in the middle of screenings for this school year, but last year the department tested 13,454 children. About 25 percent had possible vision issues, less than 1 percent had possible hearing problems, 2 percent had scoliosis, and 43 percent had BMI issues, either above or below normal numbers. Parents can opt out of the screening for their children, but Millsap and Colfer said not many parents do.
“We do not want kids to have self-esteem issues,” said Millsap. “Right on [the] letter it says sports may impact the results.”
Athletic children and adults might have a higher BMI because they have more muscle mass. BMI provides a rubric for doctors to work with, but does not provide an entire picture of a person’s health.
“Because of the obesity crisis, we have to have some tool. The CDC will say [BMI] is not perfect,” Colfer told TODAY. “These are simply screen tests, it is not a diagnosis.”
Image: Girls playing volleyball, via Shutterstock
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Friday, March 8th, 2013
A Florida woman found herself in the unusual position earlier this week of receiving an email from her obstetrician in which the doctor threatened to send police to her home if she refused to come to the hospital for an immediate cesarean section to deliver her fifth child. Lisa Epsteen had delivered her four previous children by cesarean, but had enlisted the help of Dr. Jerry Yankowitz, chairman of the University of South Florida’s department of obstetrics and gynecology, to attempt the high-risk process of vaginal-birth-after-cesarean (VBAC).
Epsteen was ultimately able to schedule her surgery for March 8, as she wanted, days after she received the email from Yankowitz stating, according to the Tampa Bay Times:
“I am deeply concerned that you are contributing to a very high probability that your fetus will die or your child will incur brain damage if born alive. At this time, you must come in for delivery,” Yankowitz wrote.
“I would hate to move to the most extreme option, which is having law enforcement pick you up at your home and bring you in, but you are leaving the providers of USF/TGH no choice,” he continued.
After contacting advocacy groups, Epsteen was able to delay the surgery and avoid police action. The Times reports:
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Yankowitz was frank with Epsteen about the risks she faced after four caesareans, she said. They met multiple times during her pregnancy, and he stayed in touch by email.
In their last meeting on Friday, she said he urged her to think about his recommendation that she have a caesarean. Epsteen had developed gestational diabetes, another risk factor, plus the baby was not in a good position for a vaginal delivery.
When an ultrasound Tuesday showed the fetus in possible distress, other USF physicians sent her directly to Tampa General and wanted to deliver right then.
But she questioned their alarm. Besides, she couldn’t leave her 2-year-old son with strangers. She was driving the family’s only car, so her husband, a team leader at a call center, couldn’t get to her.
“In Dr. Yankowitz’s defense, and all of the other physicians there, I don’t think they are trying to cover themselves. I think they really do have the best interests of my child and myself at heart,” she added. “On the other hand, this is not the way to go about protecting my baby or me.”
Yankowitz was named the USF chair of obstetrics and gynecology in late 2010. He is one of the few doctors in the nation who is doubly certified in genetics and maternal fetal medicine, according to the USF website. His areas of expertise include ultrasound diagnostics.
After the lawyer got involved, Yankowitz sent a subsequent email saying he wouldn’t send law enforcement to Epsteen’s home. “I personally recognize and respect your right to make the medical treatment decisions for both you and your unborn child. . . . In that regard, please understand my frustration as I truly believe you and your child are in jeopardy.”